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How to Bring The Future Faster For Rural Education and Economic Development


How to Bring The Future Faster For Rural Education and Economic Development

Interview with Thomas P. , Thomas P. Miller & Associates Miller

What lessons did you learn from COVID-19 that TPMA and all companies should take with them and implement for the future even after we overcome the pandemic?

I think the reality is that the pandemic will be with us for a while, so we still have to be adjusting and making adaptations along the way. One thing that has been a lesson learned by all of us was that we all knew that online learning and virtual work would be happening in the near future, but one of the aspects of the pandemic which people overlooked is the fact that it brought the future faster to us. K-12 schools and higher education institutions have all had to adapt to e-Learning. That adaptation has caused parents or caregivers to also adapt.

In rural areas, the pandemic has also heightened attention on issues like broadband. In the past when we talked about broadband, all of us had sympathy for remote and rural locations. Now, however, we’re all impacted because of the heavy demand and reliance on it. When you’ve got five to six people in a house and some are trying to learn while others are trying to do work, the issue of broadband and digital connectivity becomes even more important than we previously considered!

The pandemic has also highlighted the different ways in which we are able to communicate. We used to rely on physical meetings to understand what was happening both, workwise and socially. Since we are now virtual, we’ve all had to sharpen our precision in communication.

From both a workforce and economic development standpoint, we’re really finding that adaptability equals survivability. For companies, and even employees who are able to adapt to the environment around them, I think that they’re not only going to continue finding success during the pandemic, but they will be more successful after it as well. It’s proving to be true more and more every day, especially as we’re looking at going into a second wave.

Do you have any tips for how to develop and cultivate relationships in an increasingly virtual marketplace?

One of the things that I’ve always thought was underappreciated in communication, and I think it’s been heightened in the environment which we find ourselves in now, is listening. Being able to listen in an active, intent way – Not just patiently listening until someone’s finished talking. I think listening in an active way is a skill that’s possible to hone and really develop in this kind of environment.

The other thing that we see is the human nature of this pandemic; that to some degree, there has been certain democratization to it, in the sense that we’re all vulnerable. So, it’s opened up channels and access to thought leaders and other leaders that previously we didn’t have. It’s also going to put additional stress and strain on certain systems, like higher education.

We’ve occasionally talked or written about the agricultural model that we all adopted on learning 140 years ago and that’s clearly an aspect of education that is front and center now. People feel much more comfortable accessing learning in an online way. I think we’re going to see a growth in competency-based learning, which is mastering specific competencies and moving at your own pace. I think that will be accelerated in the workforce world.

As far as the communications environment, I feel like the pandemic has really made the communications environment more casual. We’re seeing into people’s living rooms and their kitchens, with the husbands, wives, and kids running around. It’s just a much more personal environment.

So, I think the pandemic has cut down on some of the business aspects of relationships. It’s opening the door to a lot more comfortable interactions and a lot more personal one on one interactions than what we saw previously, even when we were face to face.

What strategies can teams use to find opportunity zones and foster economic development through crises such as recessions and pandemics?

There remains a lot of work to be done in opportunity zones.

At its core, an opportunity zone really involves a city or community or region, evaluating their own assets and presenting them via a prospectus so that it accentuates those assets and entices investment into the zone and via strategies that the prospectus lays out.

Strategies, in terms of needs that those communities have and the opportunity to develop them.

I think the intensity and uncertainty of the pandemic has been a distraction; it’s been tough for people to do the type of work to optimize their zones.

There’s been some recent news out that home prices in opportunity zones are rising at a slower pace than areas outside of opportunity zones, for example. One of the key things that I think communities are starting to realize is that these opportunity zones aren’t going to develop themselves. In order to do that, many of them have to get a better handle on the demographics, the businesses, what the housing environment is like, the whole nine yards!

Stakeholders need to take stock of what’s in the opportunity zones and come up with a strategy and implementation plan for success, because it’s not going to happen on its own. One of the things we are seeing in this COVID-19 environment is a real emergence of diversity, equity, and inclusion being focal points as to how those zones are developed. Gone are the days, I think, of when people just kind of accepted gentrification and said, “this is the way to go.”

I think people are really trying to look for ways to find inclusive, equitable development in these zones. A lot of communities are reaching out to firms like ours looking for help in doing that.

Where do you see Thomas P. Miller & Associates (TPMA) in the next five years?

We’ve survived the pandemic for eight months so far, knock on wood! After 31 years of operating in a non-pandemic environment, we will continue to live at the intersection of education, workforce, and community development. There’s no shortage of work to be done, and frankly, there’s no shortage of opportunities for individuals and businesses to succeed.

We will continue to look at the future and figure out how we can help individuals, communities, and in some cases whole states, position themselves not for the economy of the future, but the economy of now. That is going to mean more of a focus on skills, not just traditional degrees. It’s going to accentuate lifelong learning in all its various facets. I think TPMA has a vibrant future ahead of it.

It’s all about talent. As we continue to help others, we’ve got to help ourselves and be able to retain and recruit the best talent that has the ‘innovation DNA’ to live on the edge.

We know that right now, as in any moment of disaster or recovery, people are going to be looking out for firms like ours, for that “North Star.” So we work really hard to try and stay ahead of that curve and be innovative while also making sure our work is actionable now and not only actionable in the future.

It’s a holistic approach to recovery where we’re guiding clients through, both for now and in the future.


Financial Technology Industry Poised for Growth ‘Now Now’ in Africa

MS: Let’s face it – The financial market in Nigeria is frenetic and the country’s banking regulations have a reputation for being tough to navigate; what must companies such as NowNow do in order to be successful in a system that is quickly growing, but facing new challenges every day?

Sahir Berry, Founder and CEO, NowNow: It is true that the Nigerian market is dynamic, and it exudes varying degrees of energies depending on the prevailing market forces. The regulating institutions which are saddled with the responsibility of stabilizing the market and its players are doing as much as they can. However, a lot more can be done in areas of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

NowNow as a company has been able to navigate its way amidst these challenges by strictly complying with Nigeria’s laws and seeking to engage with law-abiding organizations in strategic alliances towards the common goal of providing sound financial solutions for the populous. NowNow has heavily invested in research and the close monitoring of market trends and their evolution to allow for swift adaptation to what the market is offering at any given period.

Companies such as NowNow should continue to invest heavily in research that would provide quality information aimed at making sound business decisions.

MS: The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) of Nigeria has basically said that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector must be developed domestically from local manufacturing, through the use of Nigerian-made software, hardware and telecommunication products. Has this autonomously-led regulation helped or hindered your ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth, both inside and outside of Nigeria?

Sahir Berry: No. This regulation has not impeded NowNow’s ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth. Rather, what the regulations have done is to avail more of a level playing ground for institutions like NowNow to seek out talents in our various locations and coagulate them to build a super product that will serve consumers, irrespective of their locations.

As NowNow’s tech team is based in Nigeria and India – a good number of our products are developed locally, with an indigenous advantage and local acceptability. This brings about a sense of inclusion to all parties involved in the production process.

MS: How do you make sure that your agents have enough cash to dispense to physical Naira to NowNow users and how do you regulate and monitor their dealings?

Sahir Berry: Our processes are very strategically handpicked, standardized and monitored after thorough KYC compliance. There is a reasonable daily limit to all transactions made by either the agents or consumers. Agents are allowed to hold a daily imprest up to the limited daily amount for the day’s transaction. In some cases, the agents are conversant with the transaction trends in their area and they are able to project a new limit not exceeding the company’s limit for themselves. This is put in place to control the movement of funds from one party to another, and also to forestall money laundering and other financial vices.

MS: How has mobile banking changed the fortunes of not only Nigerians, but Africans across the continent?

Sahir Berry: Mobile banking has assumed a lead position in the banking space. The ease with which people transfer funds from one end of the country to the other can not be overemphasized. This has helped to create a new micro-economy and an ecosystem that has afforded many of the unbanked the access to cross the financial and market inclusion divide.

According to a report undertaken by our team of researchers in-country, it was discovered that financial inclusion in the area of payments and pension rose significantly in less than a decade. An appreciable growth was recorded, with digital payments moving from 22% in 2010 to about 40% in 2018, while pension rose sparingly, from about 4.9% in 2010 to 8% in 2018.

Despite the fact that the financial inclusion goal of 70% by the year 2020 via digital payment has yet to be achieved, tremendous improvement has been made, with over $90 billion worth of transactions executed in over 9 million deals across all fintech platforms by the end of 2018 in Nigeria.

The Nigerian electronic market grew by 19.30% and was worth $174 billion in 2018 alone and as of 2019, we have about 25% growth, worth some $225 billion. These developments have created more jobs via tech startups and also aided financial inclusion in all of its tenets (e.g. equal opportunity and community empowerment). Talented Nigerians are employed by these startups to help create more solutions that will benefit a target of reducing financial exclusion to 20% by the end of 2020.

MS: What do you believe sets NowNow apart from the competition? How is your mobile banking app different from the others that are featuring in Nigeria?

Sahir Berry: NowNow has risen above the stratosphere of mediocrity in the fintech space. We have strived very hard to distinguish ourselves from the rest, by providing the value proposition of being service-focused and customer-centric, and also proving a flexible solution to a myriad of financial challenges, subject to varying levels of market-testing and simulations, our goal well before embarking on production.

We painstakingly evaluate our end-users and potential end-users alike and work with what works for them. At NowNow, the focus is strictly centered on value creation.

Our model is tailored to the agent-consumer-merchant ‘tripod’, such that we have a model that suits all businesses. Our mobile app is a ‘super-app’ model that helps with airtime recharge, utility payment, insurance, health, entertainment, sports and many more.

We chose the brand name NowNow because we live the reality of the name. Everything can be done on our app, our ecosystem, at the snap of one’s fingers.

MS: Considering the ICT sector is entirely domestic, how does NowNow manage data protection for its clients?

Sahir Berry: NowNow has software components that are deployed on an AWS Cloud Platform, which ensures that inherent security is added to our payment platform.

We follow strict data policy procedures in order to keep our consumer information safe from unauthorized access, by making sure our IT systems are given access based on ‘Roles and Permissions’. NowNow as a licensed mobile money operator by the Apex bank in Nigeria. We went through a thorough audit from both internal and external auditors (CBN and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Adhering to industry best practices is a source of pride for us. We do not intend to relent on our efforts to lead, as even more stringent measures are being put in place to forestall data leak from any source.

MS: How will NowNow help its customers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis?

Sahir Berry: These are turbulent times for all. We have chosen to intensify our efforts in aiding smooth and seamless transactions, even in the face of varying degrees of economic ‘shut-down’ across the globe.

We have ensured that our staff works remotely to provide technical assistance around the clock for all of our agents and consumers. We are aware times like these mean many lean heavily on mobile money transfers and ‘cash-out’ transactions, as people are observing social distancing and trying to reduce physical contact in all facets.

We are abreast of the prevailing circumstances and we have evolved in various ways to meet these challenges. Also, we have lent our voice in the campaign on staying safe and staying indoors to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

MS: How will NowNow remain resilient through a period in which the coronavirus has sent global markets into chaos?

Sahir Berry: We know tough times never last, but tough businesses do.

We are resolute with our vision and we are going to keep devising ways to adjust to the pandemic’s ramifications towards recovery. Presently, we have adopted the remote working style, and we keep track of this and all other events on our platform electronically. This will be intensified, and more security measures will be put in place to guide against possible system compromise.